Sunday, July 13, 2008

China allows gay clubs but not political expression; family responsibility is mandatory

Last week, the Discovery Channel ran an important documentary series about China (“The People’s Republic of Capitalism”), produced and narrated by Ted Koppel, and the second of the episodes, “From Maoism to Meism” covered gay life in China.

On one level, larger cities in China, like the inland city Chongqing covered in the series, have gay bars and discos with flashy entertainment and drag shows. The Chinese consider this an “escape valve” not allowed to be taken seriously politically. China does not allow gay pride marches, or any organized political expression.

There were a couple of other disturbing points. Chinese culture expects adults to get married and have exactly one child. This is in itself an irony with the “one child per family” policy which is said to produce “little emperor” only children, perhaps a reason why China is now embracing a very competitive style of capitalism under the veneer of a culturally conformist society. The "one child" policy means that a non-procreating only child would end his parents' biological lineage. But another major reason is that the Chinese, like many Asian societies, are very serious about expecting adult children to care for their aging parents. China does not have social security or widely available group health insurance yet, although its likely that worldwide financial companies will try to sell the Chinese on the idea of private accounts to provide lifelong financial security, producing a more privatized system than we (or Europe) has. But as a result of this instantiation of “family values”, some young Chinese gay men say that they will have to go back in the closet and marry (heterosexually) and have a child after age 30, as if this was something they could switch on and off at will.

To a western male with a “European” ancestry, Chinese gay society, at least on television, looks rather uniform. Some day when I am better able, financially at least, I’d like to see the country in person, including Chongqing and with the train ride to Lhasa. Ted Koppel has gotten me to think about going.

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